Flying the Storm(3)
Author:C. S. Arnot

    Almost immediately, Aiden’s headset crackled with a radio transmission.

    “Aircraft Tango-Tango-Eight-Two-Seven, put down immediately. You are not cleared for departure, all aircraft are temporarily grounded. Return to Pivdenna air dock. Comply.”

    Aiden switched the radio off. He angled the fans slightly and increased the throttle. The Iolaire surged forward with its wings folding out for conventional flight. Aiden was pressed into his seat.

    Sevastopol bay glimmered in the low sun as Aiden and Fredrick accelerated across it, praying they would get away cleanly.

    Fredrick’s voice crackled across the intercom once more. “Trouble,” he said.

    Aiden’s stomach dropped. “Aircraft?”

    “Yeah, just one so far. This could get messy, Aiden.”

    “It’s already pretty bloody messy…just…just warn him off if he comes too close.”

    “You know what these guys are like, Aiden. I’ll have to shoot him down before he’ll bug out.”

    Aiden did know that, but saying it made it real. He scanned the horizon port and starboard of the cockpit for any other aircraft. None. Through the blue haze he could see the Gilgamesh warship itself, hovering ominously a long way inland. It was an awesome sight: the gigantic aircraft whose presence alone had conquered the Crimea.

    Everybody’d heard of the Gilgamesh, and everybody knew the same few things about it: it was more than a klick from bow to stern, bristled with more guns than was worth thinking about and harboured its own fleet of aircraft. Some said it had flown for decades without refuelling, though exactly how it had was something of a mystery.

    He could understand, however, why its crew had turned to piracy after the Eurasian War, when the superpower that had built it collapsed on itself. The crew had been left with nothing but the Gilgamesh, but someone had seen the profit in it: with a craft like that, they could be gods. Maybe once, they’d been the crew of the glorious flagship of the North Atlantic union  ; now they were nothing but an army of renegades and pirates. World-infamous pirates. And Aiden had quite possibly just killed two of them.

    “He’s lining up on us, Aiden,” said Fredrick.

    Aiden groaned. Make that three. “Let him have it then.”

    “Right.” There was a pause before Fredrick opened fire. Aiden felt it through his feet as the heavy gun hammered out its opening salvo, hopefully mostly into the pursuing patrol craft. Then it stopped.

    “You get him?”

    A hesitation. “I did hit him, the gun’s jammed though.” Fredrick sounded remarkably calm.

    “Can’t you un-jam it?”

    “For fanden, Aiden! Do you never clean this thing?!” Fredrick’s calm had left in a hurry. “Lort, lort, lort, lort, lort!”

    “What the hell’s jamming it?” Aiden demanded.

    Fredrick yelled back something Aiden didn’t understand.

    “Say it in English, you son-of-a-bitch!”

    “I said I’ll be damned if I know!” yelled Fredrick. “Don’t fly straight you idiot! Break! Break!”

    “Alright, alright!” Aiden shouted back as he swung the flight stick to the left, rolling the craft and banking high. A ripple of tracer bullets shot under the Iolaire’s belly; right where it should have been. He swung the craft back to the right and watched as the orange streaks slapped into the sea ahead, sending up plumes of white spray.

    He tipped the nose down slightly, hoping that hugging the surface would make the Iolaire harder to hit. He knew his prop wash would be kicking up spray, but manoeuvring at such a height was incredibly dangerous.

    “How do I un-jam this piece of shit?!” cried Fredrick.

    “The crank handle in front of you, pump it backwards!”

    “It won’t move!”

    “Of course it’ll move! Yank it!”

    “OK!” said Fredrick. “Lort, why won’t it shoot?!”

    “What does it say on the HUD?”

    “It doesn’t say anything! Break, Aiden!”

    Aiden wrenched the Iolaire to starboard, narrowly avoiding another burst of tracer fire. The sea hurtled past, nerve-shreddingly close.

    “On the console, push the reset button!”

    “Which one is that?”

    “The red button that says ‘reset’, you daft prick, push it!”

    “Right.” Fredrick paused. “It’s running a diagnostic. How long will that take?”

    “I don’t know, thirty seconds?”

    “Great, so what am I supposed to do until then? Scare him off with curse words?”

    “You can try!” replied Aiden. “Tell me what it says when it’s done!”

    Aiden executed a series of course changes, keeping the Iolaire a hard target, while Fredrick hurled vicious Danish abuse at the aircraft following them.

    “OK, it says that there’s a stoppage,” said Fredrick finally.

    “Well we already bloody knew that!”

    “It says to pull the cocking lever. Is that the-”

    “Yes, that’s the crank I told you to pull earlier! Yank it as hard as you can!”

    Fredrick let out a string of guttural curses as he tried the handle. “Yes! It moved! A shell fell out, I saw it!”

    “Now shoot at that bastard behind us!”

    A rattling burst from the gun. Fredrick whooped.

    Aiden let himself breathe. “You hit him?”

    “Yeah, he’s struggling! Hold it steady, I don’t think…” Fredrick trailed off as he loosed another blast. “I got him! I shot the bastard down!” There was a dull thud that shook the Iolaire as the stricken pursuer plunged into the sea.

    The Iolaire was climbing steadily, accelerating further. Aiden knew for sure that they’d killed at least one person now and he felt a little sickened. It didn’t upset him on a moral level so much: all of those men were trying to kill them. No, in the space of twenty minutes, they’d made themselves wanted fugitives. They’d have to scrap their aircraft ID and keep checking over their shoulders for the next few months at least. He doubted the Gilgamesh’s commanders would allow such an insult to slide.

    They certainly couldn’t trade within a thousand kilometres of the warship any more, and Sevastopol was the best port on the Black Sea. Aiden was furious. He’d lost his new home.

    “So, where to?” he asked Fredrick.

    “Need to keep a straight course away from the Gilgamesh for a couple of hundred kilometres or so, just until that radar detector shuts up. Then we should take a new heading, so they can’t just join up the dots and find us.”

    Aiden saw the sense in that. Once the Gilgamesh couldn’t track them anymore, they could head where they wanted. Until then it’d be a fast, straight course to the west, high-tailing it away from the Crimea.

    He hoped that the Gilgamesh didn’t send a fighter. The Iolaire wouldn’t stand a chance. It was fast, with a top speed of around eight hundred kilometres per hour at the right altitude, but it was no match for a jet. On the plus side, he doubted that either Fredrick or himself would know anything about it if a jet did have a pop at them. They’d be intact and healthy one second, then probably a very hot, pink, supersonic mist the next. There were worse ways to die, he supposed.

    They had only been climbing for a few moments when a thunderous explosion shook the Iolaire. Aiden jumped against his straps. The game was up. He assumed he was dead.

    Somehow, he wasn’t, and the Iolaire seemed to be fine. Craning to look, he saw a thin vapour trail ending in a huge puff of grey smoke, and far ahead of him a swathe of the sea was thrown up in shimmering towers of white spray.

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